Delicately retreads an incredible feat of skill

by Gazette Reporter
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IN 1974, just as the second of the World Trade Centre towers was due to open for business in Manhattan, French acrobat Phillipe Petit flew across the Atlantic with a motley crew of his hippy friends and conducted an exquisitely daring wire walk between the peaks of the twin towers.
Presented here in The Walk (Cert PG, 123 mins), this is a rollercoaster of a story that immediately grips us, due to the sheer grandeur of it, which is bolstered by the fact that not only was Petit’s wire walk incredibly magnificent, it was also incredibly illegal.
It involved years of meticulous preparation, folders crammed with fake IDs and delivery dockets, pockets overflowing with dodgy moustaches, and buckets brimming with bravado to pull off.
It may be the stuff of fairytales, but it was a story that many of us were ignorant of up until a few years ago.
Back in those hazy days when Petit stepped out over an abyss, documentary equipment was heavy and scarce, but some stuttering footage and stunning photographs exist to complement the colourful accounts of the morning commuters who were standing 1,364ft below.
This rich material was tapped expertly in 2008 for James Marsh’s documentary, Man on Wire, which also had Petit and his accomplices revisit their coup through in-depth interviews with Marsh.
It was no doubt this deep blend of exhilarating action and character-driven story that piqued the interest of writer and director Robert Zemeckis, who has treated us over 30 years to a plethora of family-friendly, blockbusting adventures.
In The Walk, Zemeckis attempts to capture the epic scale of Petit’s tale with a tried and tested Hollywood recipe: trim the more intricate edges and discard. Bring to a boil and then add stock characters. Liberally apply Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Garnish with a flourish of computer graphics, and serve.
The result is a visual feast, but whether it will leave you satisfied really depends on your appetite.
The Walk is a colourful, vivacious, and over-the-top romp that will either float your boat or sink it entirely.
Gordon-Levitt’s French accent is nowhere near as steady as his wire-walking skills, but he makes up for it with an array of continental frowns and hand gestures.
It’s best not to dwell too long on Ben Kingsley’s manic performance as Petit’s Franco-Polish mentor.
The drama is played out with such extravagance that it becomes cartoonish – just imagine a French Scooby Doo cast in a heist flick, and you’ll be most of the way there.
And, while there may be nothing wrong with that, per se, at least Scooby Doo left a bit of mystery as to how things may unfold.
Here, we are led unrelentingly by the hand – it feels like in between almost every scene “the fourth wall” breaks as Gordon-Levitt speaks again to us, while perched atop the flame of the Statue of Liberty, to tell us exactly what is on his mind.
It is an attempt, one must guess, to replicate the sense of an enthralling yarn unfolding that made Man on Wire such a success, but here it feels unnecessary, over-used, and – consequently – annoying.
If this is a rollercoaster of a story, it is one with a very long cue. But there is no denying that when it counts, The Walk is spectacular. The climactic scenes are equally tense and beautiful to look at, and feature some seriously impressive computer graphics and 3D.
Zemeckis may have nailed an engrossing 15 minutes, but with cardboard characters and the more nuanced elements of the true-life story blotted out, the main feeling running through this film is disconnection, rather than immersion.
It is a great view but step out at your own risk.

Verdict: 5/10

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